Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

January 5, 2012

Flash Fiction – The Rutherford Expedition

Filed under: fictionchunk,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 9:55 pm

In the spirit of cheerfully avoiding working on my novel, I have committed another act of delirious short fiction. Once again I’m taking a prompt from Chuck Wendig, whose flash fiction this week is the Sub-Genre Mashup. Participants select two from the list of six sub-genres (Dystopian Sci-Fi; Cozy Mysteries; Slasher/Serial Killer; Lost World; Spy Fiction; Bodice Ripper) and blend them in a 1000-word story.

It should be pretty easy to spot which ones I went with. It’s such a fun list I’m almost tempted to do another one (there is something seriously enticing about the dystopian bodice ripper, an impulse I don’t care to examine too closely).

No, I’ve procrastinated enough. Time to get some other work done. Please enjoy ‘The Rutherford Expedition’.

The Rutherford Expedition

The Rutherford Expedition out of Antananarivo was finally forced to turn back in late August 1905, following a number of unfortunate fatalities.

The first indication was had that plans had gone awry when Coldecott, the anthopology undergraduate to whose farm-hardened frame was entrusted much of the Professor’s more sensitive instrumentation, contrived to misjudge his footing in the darkness at the brink of the just-named Kettleborough Cliff.

Frantic calls of enquiry soon established that he had survived the immediate fall, albeit with injuries which were supposed by his companions to have been severe and undoubtedly life-threatening. An urgent attempt to effect his rescue was called off with reluctance but no hesitation by Professor Rutherford himself when, by observations aided in part by a significant naturally-occurring patch of the same luminescent emerald fungus which had provided illumination with such distinction after the expiry of the final remnants of lantern oil, the silhouetted form of Coldecott could be seen fending off the hungry advances of a nest of juvenile pterodactyls. His desperate writhing was accompanied by the most dreadful screams of terror and discomfort, the shrill cries of the ravenous nestlings and the sharp crunch of bones.

While it was generally agreed that the decent course was to stand in mute observance of the final moments of this unlucky companion in whom all present had found an acquaintance of the most amiable nature, Rutherford retained the astuteness to predict the likely return of the creatures’ nesting parent at any moment, in all probability extending Coldecott’s crisis to all present. A hasty but impeccably careful retreat back along the cliff path was enacted. It was decided that Doctor Adlard’s proposed alternate route through the caverns of bleached mosses and bulbous, flaking toadstools was the more satisfactory prospect after all.

Greater misfortunes still were to follow in the next few days: Ms Pendreigh, having separated from the main party in some urgency to attend to a delicate matter and failing to return in a timely fashion, was soon found to have been ravaged about the face and throat. Delivering his medical verdict after a nervous and rapid examination, the Doctor ascribed the vicious brutality of the wounds to the ministrations of some stalking predator equipped with superior reflexes and foretalons of unusual length. He demonstrated the latter with a comparison to one of his own surgical implements. ‘Whatever monstrous beast did this devil’s work,’ he proclaimed, showing the flat gleaming curve of his amputation knife to the rattled company, ‘was equipped with claws of similar magnitude.’ It was agreed that further excursions in response to calls of nature would not go unaccompanied, no matter the harm to human dignity.

Commander Doole fell sick shortly after the expedition had reached its initial destination, the Majesterial Chamber. At the foot of one of the few pale sunbeams to eke its way through cracks in the surface of what must surely have been the Great Rift Valley into this subterranean world, on the mossy floor of the great cavern, the bold military man suffered through a series of wracking convulsions until at last, his face purple with protracted effort, he breathed his last.

Adlard set aside his stethoscope and shook his head. ‘Against my strongest advice,’ he said, ‘the Commander must in his advanced state of hunger have ingested some of the green mushrooms.’

The Professor had demurred, arguing that all present had comprehended Doctor Adlard’s warnings and that the pragmatic Doole was surely among the least prone to such a misadventure. The Doctor could offer no definitive rebuttal, though he stood by his prognosis.

Professor Rutherford had achieved his great ambition, to obtain incontrovertible proof that the hidden underworlds of Madagascar and Mozambique were connected by means of a network of subterranean passages. To his regret, the loss of nearly half his company now forced him to consider the cancellation of his planned survey of the Majesterial’s glittering crystal formations and shy, chittering spider-people in order to look for the shortest available route to the surface.

In a rare display of egalitarianism, he consulted with his remaining companions before making the personally devastating decision. Lady Prunella, bereft now of both her personal attendant and her secret lover, expressed her preference to withdraw. Staunch and optimistic, Doctor Adlard had argued to stay the course. Young Carrington, shaken by his mentor’s uncharacteristic indecisiveness, would not speak for one path or the other, fearing to betray the Professor’s trust with either choice. His life’s work but a fingertip out of reach, the Professor chose with a heavy heart to place life and limb before scientific inquisition.

Carrington’s subsequent demise – cut to tatters in an avalanche of crystal shards triggered by what could not be plausibly ascribed to anything other than the detonation of survey charges – gave birth to questions regarding the earlier fatalities. The Professor, in the same incident laid low by a leg injury which would necessitate the employment of Adlard’s amputation tool, bared his suspicions thus: “Good Lord, Adlard! What sort of monster are you? Why have you killed us all?”

Doctor Adlard protested his innocence, citing his vigorous efforts to save the lives of their fellows. As a show of goodwill, he set his blade aside until rational discourse could be restored.

Rutherford would have nothing of it. Overcoming the pain of his ruined limb, he grasped at Adlard’s throat with both hands. He wrestled the physician to the ground and throttled him there, a lust for vengeance stiffening his resolve until the grisly deed was done.

It was this moment which Lady Prunella chose to complete her sacred duty, forcibly severing the Professor’s head with one muscular swipe of the discarded knife. Sheka Mara, the Crocodile Princess, inheritor of the Malachite Throne of Ancient Quul-Harak, quietly removed the hateful constrictive clothing – chemise, corset, crinoline, layer after layer of accursed petticoats – which comprised her disguise among the surface dwellers all these years.

Perhaps now they would get the message.


  1. Very nice! 😀 To some it may sound harsh, but the mysteries of Quul-Harak must be protected from the surface dwellers.

    Comment by The Once and Future Dr Clam — January 6, 2012 @ 6:40 am

  2. Dear Sir,

    I cannot tell you what unexpected pleasure it was to come across your imaginative reconstruction of the ultimate days of the Rutherford expedition. I wonder that you do not mention the debt owed by Professor Rutherford to the Finisterre expedition of 1901-2? I expect that this is an exigency only of the 1000 word limit to your reconstruction. You are of no doubt aware that it was Cpt Finisterre’s investigation of the mysterious conical tower at Pora Fosa in the Plateau Mahafaly and local tales of a “world subterranean” that led Professor Rutherford to his postulation of a subterranean connexion between Madagascar and Mozambique. I make this observation not from considerations of pedantry or national pride only but from a more intimate motivation, as my great-grandfather Lt Maurice Charleux was a member of the Finisterre expedition. I have in my possession a journal of my grat-grandfather’s which although not written since some years afterwards may be of interest to you.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Col. Armand Charleux (ret.), St Malo

    Comment by Col Armand Charleux (ret) — January 6, 2012 @ 7:34 am

  3. i am in communication with the XSOLOCH which scinetists might call subterranean giant lemurs but tyey do not realise theur blind eyes see WHAT WE CANNOT
    i have urgent message for CROCODILE PRINCESS
    plz help

    Comment by Zophar*Naamathite — January 6, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

  4. Yes, yes. Quite.
    But old chap, how can they get the message?
    There is no one left to deliver it.

    Comment by Louise Sorensen — January 6, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  5. This is wonderful! I could visualize each character as the plot was revealed. I wish the 1,000 words didn’t go so fast. Very Christie in tone. Too fun! Love the mash-ups.

    Comment by Lesann — January 6, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  6. Colonel – that Professor Rutherford built upon the dedicated efforts of many predecessors is indisputable, but I confess that I am ignorant of the specifics of the Finisterre expedition. A firsthand account of an archeological investigation from the age is a treasure almost beyond value. How delightful it would be to be supplied with direct observations and factual details. Surely such a wealth of incontrovertible evidence such as the journal you describe would overcome any fanciful impulse on the part of latter-day reporters such as myself to fill gaps in the available accounts with lurid speculations! If you can bear to part with such a treasured family heirloom, I urge you to forward it to my address at the museum. I enclose a sum of forty guineas which I hope will defray any inconvenience on your part.

    Seam-Obedient Harj-Tus-Junt – One of the subthings has escaped the Basting Pits. Dispatch the Ur-Golem to retrieve the Naamathite Zothar. No witnesses are to be tolerated.

    Comment by lexifab — January 6, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  7. Louise – The surface dwellers will soon learn to their cost not to meddle with the Haraki-Sul! It is written! [1]

    Lesann – Thanks very much. I had no idea where this was going when I started writing it (hence the dubious logic of its ending) but it was a lot of fun anyway. Since then I’ve been thinking that it could be fleshed out slightly into a pretty cool comic of 20 pages of so.

    [1] No doubt this threat too was recorded on some ancient howling stone or glowing pedestal far beneath the World Above, or some other location wholly inaccessible to its intended recipients. The Crocodile Princess probably needs to engage a better media advisor.

    Comment by lexifab — January 6, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

  8. […] For an obvious example, look at my flash fiction piece ‘The Rutherford Expedition‘ where, for reasons of keeping to the thousand word limit, the big reveal of the […]

    Pingback by May is the month of resolution « Lexifabricographer — May 5, 2012 @ 10:47 am

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